Rating: 7 out of 10
Summary: For nineteen-year-old Harriet Morton, life in 1912 Cambridge is as dry and dull as a biscuit. Her stuffy father and her oppressive aunt Louisa allow her only one outlet: ballet. When a Russian ballet master comes to class searching for dancers to fill the corps of his ballet company before their South American tour, Harriet’s world changes.
Defying her father’s wishes and narrowly escaping the clutches of the man who wishes to marry her, Harriet sneaks off to join the ballet on their journey to the Amazon. There, in the wild, lush jungle, they perform Swan Lake in grand opera houses for the wealthy and culture-deprived rubber barons, and Harriet meets Rom Verney, the handsome and mysterious British exile who owns the most ornate opera house.
Utterly enchanted by both the exotic surroundings and by Rom’s affections, Harriet is swept away by her new life, completely unaware that her father and would-be finacé have begun to track her down. . . .
Commentary: This is what I call a Wish-Fulfillment Novel. Our heroine goes through a great struggle, she’s valiant, she’s humble, she’s likeable and we want her to win! And in the end, she does, and everything works out just great. She has a happy ending. All the right things happen in all the right places. There’s a lot of “coincidences”… but the kind of coincidences that just work out perfectly. Gives you a nice, warm feeling after you finish. With this kind of thing, it’s very easy to slip into stuff that’s too cliche, where the heroine becomes too good, and the happy ending is too happy. Sort of like a campy romance novel.
However, Ibbotson did a good job of not falling into that trap. I read a lot of Ibbotson’s work when I was younger, namely Which Witch? and Island of the Aunts and all those other good childhood classics. When I first this picked this up I thought it was something she’d written more recently for young adults, especially since the cover looked so new and modern. But in fact she wrote it all the way back in the stone age of 1985–which was long before I was born. She’s still got stuff coming out though, which is nice. I get so depressed when authors I like die and inevitably stop writing because they’re… dead (Madeleine L’Engle is a good example).
Back to the book. It was good. Entertaining. Not too sugary. In fact, it woke in me an interest in ballet–I’ve never seen a real production, and I’m determined to catch the next performance of Swan Lake that my city’s ballet company puts on. Ibbotson seems to have done her research well.
Youthful, romantic, interesting… good read.